Roberto Mancini might have left Old Trafford in bullish mood after his Manchester City side defeated rivals Manchester United in a high-octane Monday night derby, but there must have been part of him wondering why his side have not replicated that form over the last six months more often.
Goals from James Milner and Sergio Aguero either side of a Vincent Kompany own goal gave the Premier League champions a 2-1 victory over their main competitors, but it was an act of defiance that is far too little, too late to change the destination of this year’s championship.
The gap at the top now stands at 12 points in Manchester United’s favour, and even if Sir Alex Ferguson will be annoyed at losing to his ‘noisy neighbours’, the Scot knows as well as anybody that the Red Devils will be celebrating a 20th league title come May.
Ferguson tried his best post-match to allay any fears that his side could yet be caught, first by professing himself pleased with the performance and then emphasising the strength of United’s position.
“It wasn’t a bad performance by us, so I’m not disappointed in that respect,” said Ferguson. “But I’m disappointed with the goals we gave away.
“For the first goal I thought their player [Carlos Tevez] was offside and interfering with play by standing in front of David de Gea.
“I think we were unlucky to lose the game. But it is easy to see why these were the best two teams in the country – the evidence was there tonight.”
“If you look at our history over the years we always make it difficult for ourselves,” he added. “The supporters are hanging on the edge of their seats every year. It is a 12-point lead, we go to Stoke at the weekend and we will have a go.”
By contrast, Mancini was particularly buoyant, and even though he insisted the title race was over, the Italian immediately set his sights on winning the Premier League next season.
“The championship is finished,” said Mancini. “United have won a lot of games and they lost their last game against Norwich in November, a long time ago.
“It was important for us to take second position but I think we showed we don’t deserve to stay 15 points behind. They have had more consistency in this championship because they won more games but instead we lost points when we probably deserved to win.
“We are happy. We played well and we deserved to win. We dominated the other game against Manchester United at the Etihad but lost and I didn’t know how it was possible. But that is football; today is the same.
“We have got three months where we can work well and improve our team. We know we can win the title next season.”
With Manchester United priced at 1/100 to win the league (Manchester City are 33/1), there isn’t much value to be had in the outright market, but if you fancy that Ferguson’s side can beat Chelsea’s record points haul of 95 – they need six wins and a draw from their last seven games – you can back them at 11/2 to do so.
United are 57/100 to win their next match away to Stoke City, while City face Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final. Mancini’s men are 27/20 to win the match, compared to 23/10 on the draw and 19/10 about Chelsea.